Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Kites And Fire Balloons Increasingly Used To Set Southern Israel Ablaze

Beyond kites: 'Fire balloons' increasingly used to set southern Israel ablaze

Since the first few weeks of Gaza’s “March of Return,” young Palestinians have been flying so-called “incendiary kites” into Israeli territory, setting fire to vast swaths of grasslands, agricultural fields and nature reserves.
More recently, however, a new arson tactic has been gaining popularity along the Gaza border. Instead of kites, a different children’s toy is being flown into Israel: helium balloons.
The concept is the same: Launch the airborne incendiary devices into the air and rely on the breeze from the coast to push them into Israeli territory, where they can start a fire.

The balloon tactic has been in use for at least a month and a half, but it has picked up in recent weeks.
In total, approximately 17,500 dunams (4,300 acres, or nearly seven square miles) of land have been burned in more than 250 fires over the past two months, more than half of it in nature reserves, according to initial assessments.
Authorities have yet to determine how many of the fires were started by kites and how many by balloons. “Kite terror” has become a catch-all term for the phenomenon.
As of Monday, there have been no injuries caused by the fires, but the cost of the damage is high and expected to increase, as there’s no sign that Palestinians in Gaza are giving up on the arson tactic.
The blazes, specifically those in nature reserves, have also wreaked havoc on local wildlife, ecologists say. And there are more fires every day.
The balloons themselves do not cause the fires — helium is an inert gas — but they carry flaming material attached to a long string. In some cases, just a few party balloons are used. In others, it is a larger cluster of latex balloons, capable of carrying far more substantial incendiary devices.
As with the kites, the Israeli military has yet to come up with a response to this threat. A pilot program using drones to take down the incoming kites and balloons was deemed a failure, Israel’s Kan TV reported Saturday night.

For now, Israel’s primary means of combating these airborne firebombs remains preparedness and a rapid response when blazes do break out.
Authorities, as well as individual farmers, monitor the area and when an incoming kite or balloon is spotted, they rush to the scene in order to put out the fire before it spreads.
Farmers use tractors to dig up the area around the fire in order to starve out the flames until firefighters can arrive to put out the blaze entirely.

Just on Saturday, some 300 dunams (74 acres) of the Carmia nature reserve — approximately a third of the park’s total land area — went up in flames in one of the largest individual blazes since the start of the “fire kite” phenomenon. Israel’s Hadashot news reported that there were suspicions the Carmia fire may have been started by a “fire balloon” that spread the flames as it blew through the area, but this could not be immediately confirmed. Authorities said they were still investigating the cause of the fire.

Over 5,000 dunams (1,235 acres) of farmland has been burned, most of it wheat fields, according to the Tax Authority, which is processing compensation requests from area farmers.
Driving through the area, it is rare to see a field or patch of trees that does not have at least one blotch of scorched earth from one of the fires sparked by a kite or balloon.

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